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10 March 2017 Editorial


11 MARCH 2017

Partial cover

The enhancement of paid maternity leave for women in the organised sector to 26 weeks from 12 is a progressive step, one that should lead to closer scrutiny of the difficulties faced by unorganised workers who fall beyond the scope of any worthwhile labour welfare measures. It is wholly welcome that such a benefit is being introduced with an amendment to the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, in line with several expert recommendations including that of the World Health Organisation, which recommends exclusive breastfeeding of children for the first 24 weeks. Giving some benefits to adoptive mothers and women who get children using embryo transfers as well signals India is in step with social changes. Positive though it is, the amended law is expected to cover only 1.8 million women, a small subset of women in the workforce. For many poor millions in the unorganised sector, the only support available is a small conditional cash benefit of Rs. 6,000 during pregnancy and lactation offered under the Maternity Benefit Programme. The reported move to restrict even this meagre benefit to the first child for budgetary reasons is retrograde and must be given up. If, as Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya has said, the Centre is giving organised sector women workers a humble gift, why has the damage done through the Budget not been reversed?

Providing benefits for women and children is a societal responsibility which can be funded in a large country through a combination of general taxation and contributory payments from those who have the means. Health care should be treated as a right and deliveries handled without cost to women; the income guarantees during the 26-week period can be ensured through a universal social insurance system. Such a policy would harmonise the varying maternity benefit provisions found in different laws that govern labour at present. There would also be no discrimination against women in recruitment by employers who currently have to factor in benefit payments. Conversely, women would not suffer loss of income simply because they cannot remain in employment after childbirth. Beneficiaries covered by the latest amendment must be protected from discrimination through clear provisions. Mandating creche facilities to help women workers under the changed law is a forward-looking move, but it will work well only with a good oversight mechanism. Women’s empowerment can be achieved through universal initiatives, not by imposing conditionalities to avail benefits. Access to welfare support has become even more critical as workers migrate frequently due to economic changes. The twin imperatives are, therefore, to create more jobs for women in a diversified economy, and to provide social opportunity through maternal and child welfare measures.



After Mosul

The loss of Mosul is perhaps the biggest military setback for the Islamic State. Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul was the jewel of the IS’s military gains, a place where its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his ‘Caliphate’ in June 2014. In less than three years, the IS’s territory has shrunk. It once controlled huge swathes in central and eastern Syria and north-western Iraq, but its influence is now limited to some pockets, through sustained military operations in which several actors such as Kurdish and Shia militias, Iraqi and Syrian armies and the U.S. and Russian air forces were involved. A few weeks ago, the IS lost the ancient city of Palmyra to the Syrian army. And now, it’s been practically defeated in Mosul. Iraqi troops have already captured the Mosul airport and major administrative buildings, and liberated population centres. What remains is isolated resistance by small groups of jihadists. It was a prolonged campaign. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al- Abadi ordered the Mosul offensive in October 2016, and the troops, backed by Kurdish Peshmerga and Shia militias on the ground and U.S. air power in the sky, moved inch by inch. They first liberated eastern Mosul, the left bank of the Tigris that divides the city into two, and then moved to the west, the IS’s power centre.

The defeat in Mosul does not mean that the threat from the IS is over. The group still has presence in some pockets in Iraq and in at least two major cities in Syria, Raqqa and suburbs of Deir ez-Zor. Even if the group loses its territories, it could transform itself into a stateless jihadist group like al-Qaeda and continue to target civilians in the region and beyond. But still, the larger argument is that without territories, the IS couldn’t claim to be a ‘Caliphate’. It will be driven away from cities to deserts and mountains, wrecking its conventional military capabilities. In the short run, the military operations to liberate territories from the IS in Syria and Iraq should continue; in the longer run, the respective governments should adopt a more comprehensive approach to deal with the asymmetric threats the group will pose. In Iraq, for example, the IS’s eventual defeat depends on how the government addresses Shia-Sunni tensions. Prime Minister al-Abadi appears to be clear on his preferences. Unlike his predecessor whose Shia sectarian policies drove the Sunni population to revolt against Baghdad, a resentment which the IS exploited for popular support, Mr. al-Abadi tried to reach out to the Sunnis and promised to heal the sectarian wounds. After the military victory in Mosul, he has to make sure that the Sunnis are treated as equal citizens and share power equitably. This may not happen overnight given the deep sectarian divisions. But Mr. al-Abadi should at least begin a process that would erase the suspicions among Sunnis about the government. Else, IS-like outfits will continue to channelise support and regroup.


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